Joyce Carol Oates, Dean Wesley Smith, and a host of other writers recommend typing the first scene (or a scene you want to learn from) of one of your favorite books. They claim that it helps your subconscious learn how to write. It’s similar to artists copying from master paintings in the Louvre. They aren’t trying to create forgeries. They’re learning technique.
With writing, the idea is that writing is substantially different than reading. Reading speed for adults is about 250-300 words per minute. By contrast, most writers produce somewhere between 500 and 2000 words per hour.
It’s the difference between looking out the window at the landscape while riding in a race car vs riding a slow-moving train. A race car will give you an impression of the landscape. You won’t see everything, but you will get the emotion as you drive through the world.
By contrast, the slow-moving train has a lot of time for gazing out the window at all the marvelous details, but you get to your destination slower and you may find yourself tired of the landscape halfway through.
It’s the same with reading vs writing. When I read I think I understand everything I’ve read. I was there, after all. But I didn’t. The brain does a lot of piecing things together to create a unified image when we read. Sometimes it adds things that aren’t there. Most often it seamlessly incorporates what the writer wrote into a mental picture and map.
When I write the same scene I just read, I discover nuances that I didn’t even realize were there. This is especially true if I type the passages while keeping an engaged mind. ‘Why did the author choose to use a contraction here? I wouldn’t have. Oh, I see. It is to show the informality of the person whose point of view it is.’ or ‘Wow, this set up is longer than I realized when I was reading it.’
The point is that reading and writing are different. A good writer learns from both endeavors, but learns different things.
I’m trying to figure out how to write hot romance. So I’ve read work in that field. Last night I tried typing out the beginning scene to a hot short story by Tiffany Reisz. What a revelation! I can see how she prepared the ground to get me engaged and within the character and the setting in this short story. I was stunned to see certain phrases she used in the beginning to prime me for what would take place later. Masterful.
I’ll be using this technique more in the future. It is worth the time. Type it in, folks. Pick a story you love and try it out.
Tonight is the Memphis Writers Thursday meeting that I facilitate. You’ll find me there if you want to meet up. Just check the Memphis Writers Facebook Page for more information.
I hope your endeavors are going well and that you are learning from others.
Be well, friends!